If a retailer has determined that they have a shrink problem, and that deploying an electronic article surveillance (EAS) solution would generate a positive ROI, the next step would be to deploy.

However, at Checkpoint, while we agree that the time is right for that retailer to implement EAS in-store, we strongly recommend a deeper look into the topic. After all, if you have a particular problem, you can never know too much about it before trying to solve it. Like many technologies, EAS has to be used correctly to get the best results.

So that’s what we’re going to look at over the next couple of chapters, starting today by looking at what motivates certain people to steal. This covers both premeditated and opportunistic stealing, what factors turn someone from an honest customer into one that is looking to get a bit more out of their visit to your store?


Shoplifting: a fact of life?

Most retailers accept that shoplifting is a fact of life. It’s something that is going to happen, and all retailers can do is try to protect themselves as much as possible. While to some extent this is true as there are no current plans for a solution that will “end” shoplifting, it doesn’t mean that sellers can’t look at the common causes and motivations of theft and use that information to help prevent it.

Shoplifting creates tremendous loss and disruption for retailers; according to the latest data from police forces across the UK[1] there were more than 243,993 reported incidents in 2020. It is expected that in reality this figure is much higher as attitudes to reporting incidents and indeed the law enforcement response to shop theft has changed considerably over the last 20 years.


Policing policies

With reduced budgets, ambitious targets, and an increase in organised and drug-related crime, shoplifting can sometimes fall short when competing for the attention of local and national police forces. Some forces require a monetary threshold to be met before they will respond to a report of shoplifting. While the reasoning for this approach is understandable to a certain extent, value setting can encourage what is informally known as a “theft license”. This knowledge that stealing below a certain value won’t be treated as a crime almost gives thieves permission to steal. This threshold reduces the risk for thieves, shifting the risk and reward balance, and ultimately encouraging theft – up to a certain value.

Attitudes to theft in many regions of the world are also changing. Where it was once seen to be very socially unacceptable to steal, there is less and less public attention to these seemingly everyday events. Underlying sentiments may well be the same, with most of the public unlikely to ever steal. However, the lack of action and commonplace occurrences bring about some apathy and even in some cases understanding of theft in the event of real poverty situations.


Shoplifting incidents in 2020

Disappointingly, of the nearly quarter of a million reported incidents in the UK in 2020, the number of those prosecuted remain alarmingly low. In fact, in more than half of all cases (54%), no suspect could be identified or prosecuted. For police forces including the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), Bedfordshire Police and Essex Police, this number grew exponentially with no suspect found in almost three-quarters of cases investigated[2]. It is not clear why this is, but inadequate security processes and theft prevention solutions are likely to be major factors.

These attitudes are putting the advantage in the court of the shoplifters. The risk vs. reward dynamic is firmly skewed toward reward. Steal below a certain value and there is little or no risk of criminal punishment, so if they fail in an attempt, they can simply try another store until they are successful.


Attitudes of shoplifters

Research[3] shows that tagging, and EAS solutions in general, is one way that stores can restore that balance by increasing the risk for shoplifters and at the same time reducing the reward. One study found that EAS tags were effective at deterring opportunistic theft and were seen by more professional thieves as increasing the effort whilst also increasing the risk of being caught. It also determined that items with tags were harder to sell on after theft, thus reducing the reward.

Shoplifting will always exist, but retailers have to consider the thought process of a potential thief. Is the product close to the exit? Is it easy to conceal? Is there a security system in place? Can I sell it on easily as new? These are all things that a shoplifter might be thinking as they weigh up the risk vs. reward of stealing.


Next time…

…technology is providing solutions to age-old retail challenges and shoplifting is no different. Next up in this series we look at some of this tech including CCTV and EAS, and compare them with non-tech security solutions such as store guards.




[1] The Police data for 2020 excludes Greater Manchester Police, which are unavailable due to IT issues.

[2] MPS (74.7%), Bedfordshire Police (73.4%) and Essex Police (69.4%)

[3] Sidebottom, A., Thornton, A., Tompson, L. et al. A systematic review of tagging as a method to reduce theft in retail environments. Crime Sci 6, 7 (2017).